Civil Society Group Cautions Liberians to Recognize Democratic Tradeoff
Monrovia – Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) is a Liberian Peacebuilding NGO that is committed to creating a level playing field that reflects social, political and economic fairness and diversity for all actors.
The recent October 10, 2017 Legislative and Presidential elections in our country, tests our determination as a country and people to forge ahead on a democratic path but also shows that our country is not only polarized but our democratic process is still fragile implicitly bringing the credibility and independence of National Election Commission under mounting pressure.
Unlike the 2006 and 2011 elections which were heavily funded by the international community owing to multiple post-war reconstruction problems Liberia was confronted with, the 2017 elections are squarely managed and funded by Liberia.
Elections are essential part of democratization but they can also be conflict-inducing if they are dotted with malpractices and lack transparency. Embarrassingly, we are hearing allegations of electoral malpractices in the 2017 elections.
Among others, NEC is accused of downplaying the request from CSOs to produce a Final Register Roll (FRR).
P4DP is of the conviction that such list fundamentally helps in minimizing controversial, skepticism and fear of manipulation because it creates a level playing field by allowing people to understand as well as measure the number of official registered voters at a specific precinct versus the outcomes.
Moreover, P4DP remains convinced that a FRR is an important tenet of Good Governance as it provides opportunity for check and balance and protects the integrity of members of the NEC.
Thus, the Platform for Dialogue and Peace believes that the integrity of 2017 elections can be seen as free, fair and credible, when there is a clean and clear voter final register roll.
We are also alarmed by claims that at some precincts there were reports of more voters’ than the number of registered voters and official ballot papers allotted to those centers.
A Presidential candidate complained that “polling places were moved with no notice to voters, intimidation of poll watchers, and an unprecedented number of both invalid votes and turned-away voters”.
As an organization working towards preventing vices that could cause a relapse to conflict, we are recommending that these claims be swiftly investigated especially with the scars and legacies of 14 years’ brutal conflict still lingering on the minds of Liberians.
Considering the global economic crisis coupled with increasing demand for local resource mobilization, we are obliged as Liberians to protect the processes and results of the elections.
As the first post war election to be fully administered and financed by Liberians, P4DP would like to urges all to appreciate that there are tradeoffs hence refrain from activities that promote violence and pursue all grievances through the legal channel.
We are delighted that the 2017 elections are entirely funded by the people and government of Liberia, which demonstrate that as a country, we are ready to manage our own democratic process.
However, recent developments emulating from the elections point to a number of challenges and gaps that need to be addressed in an effort to consolidate our fledging democratic process.
The Independence of NEC and appointing power of the President.
The Liberian Constitution gives the President the power to appoint members of the NEC. While the appointing power of the President is sanctioned by the Constitution, for a country emerging from two decades of conflict with visible evidence of mistrust and low social capital, we think it is prudent for the President to appoint qualified Liberians to serve at the NEC irrespective of which political parties they represent.
It is very important for the NEC to be seen as impartial in their professional judgment and their make-up rather than being perceived as Presidential appointees.
As the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) reminds us “administering democratic elections requires that members of the National Election Commission be seen to be, impartial and independent of government or other external influences.”
Indeed, most if not all, of the contentions and allegations of President Sirleaf interference with the elections came about as a result of the unprecedented meeting that she held with members of NEC on September 17, 2017.
Given that she appointed all the commissioners albeit theoretically they have some degree of independence, it is difficult to dismiss the allegation that their loyalty is not to her.
On the other hand, P4DP is of the opinion that if the NEC is managed by qualified Liberians from different persuasions and interest, people will not easily jump to the conclusion that President Sirleaf met the commissioners in order to influence their decision.
Logically, such accusation will be difficult to argue because members of NEC will have the capability to reject any political pressure or labeling and therefore enjoy high credibility due to their neutrality.
Fellow Liberians, it is particularly important to note that in a country like ours with history of patron- client linage and a culture of nepotism it is not impossible for a government or partisan election commission to conduct fair and impartial elections however pervasive mistrust in Liberia still remains a major problem in our post war rebuilding process.
As such, it is crucial to either change the appointing power of the President when it comes to appointing members of the NEC or set up an independent body of qualified Liberian technocrats to recruit and recommend commissioners for NEC.
P4DP trusts that this will increase voter confidence in NEC and dispel any fears of bias or interference as their appointment will strictly be on the basis of merit and demonstrated confidence.
Finally, the Platform for Dialogue and Peace wishes to remind all stakeholders that prolong electoral crisis has the tendency of undermining our peace and stability.
While we demand greater transparency and non-interference by the Executive branch of government in the electoral process, we encourage all stakeholders to exercise patience recognizing that Liberia is not out of the “conflict trap”.
In similar manner, the NEC is advised to exercise real autonomy and demonstrate that they are free from external influence.
The NEC should remember that voter’s participation and confidence in the electoral process and the validity of election results are to a larger extent contingent on their independence, credibility and professionalism.
Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) is a Liberian Peacebuilding NGO involved in Peacebuilding, research and participatory action activities aimed at strengthening the capacities of state and non-state actors to prevent, manage and transform conflict through collaborative action.
Established out of United Nations and Interspace collaboration in 2006, P4DP is dedicated to making Liberia become a society based on Good Governance and broader civic participation.